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Relative Lack of Structure

The transition from coursework to research brings with it significant changes in the structure of the workplace for most graduate students.  Many large projects do not have meaningful deadlines attached to them, making it necessary for you to organize and structure the work yourself.

It is important to recognize the ways in which structure has helped you to complete projects in the past and what types of challenges are present without it. This can be done by reflecting on your experience with coursework as an undergraduate or graduate student.

There are four ways that most courses are structured that help students remain on task:

  • A syllabus that assigns readings, quizzes, lab assignments, exams, etc.
  • A course schedule that specifies when classes will be taught
  • Deadlines associated with each task, including quizzes and exams
  • A system for evaluating your work, typically grades

Many large projects lack this type of structure, which makes it easy to avoid, procrastinate, and/or work inconsistently.  

A lack of structure forces you to decide whether or not you are going to work on your research every day.  If you are distracted by other projects or lack motivation to work, then it becomes likely that you will avoid the research if there isn’t a pre-existing plan. 

It will primarily be your responsibility to develop strategies for organizing and structuring your research.  This requires you to assume the role of Project Manager.

A good place to start is to develop a structure that has similar elements to those present in coursework.  This type of structure would include a workplan, task lists, deadlines, and a system of accountability. The more consistently you can hold yourself to this type of plan, the more likely you are to meet your progress goals.